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October 22, 2009

McGuinty abandons children

Reuel S. Amdur

Reuel S. AmdurThe voice is the voice of Dalton McGuinty, but the hands are the hands of Mike Harris. 

It’s budget-slashing time for Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario. 

It has also been musical chairs time at the Ontario Cabinet. Deb Matthews is the outgoing Minister of Children and Youth, and she has replaced the disgraced David Caplan as Minister of Health and Long-term Care.  Laurel Broten is taking her spot with Children and Youth.  Prior to leaving that portfolio, Matthews explained the belt-tightening. 

According to Matthews, “We actually have $30 million more in this year’s budget than in last year’s budget.” 

However, it was necessary to provide supplementary funding beyond what was budgeted. 

As a result, this year’s budget is $23 million less than last year’s agency expenditures that the government covered.  This time, they say they will not cover any deficits. 

The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) argues that the increased responsibilities of the CAS’s and the increased costs associated with that change were “anticipated and planned.” 

Since 1997, Ontario has experienced two major expansions of function for CAS’s, one of which is ongoing.  These changes were at the behest of the government.

The high profile cases of deaths of children where CAS’s were involved was one driver of change. 

Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern, communications director for OACAS, explained that a child protection worker must now follow 200 steps during an investigation.  The changed procedures resulting from the changed requirements meant an increase in children in care from the start of 1998 to the end of March, 2004, from 11,300 to 19,000.  That costs.

Matthews calls the increase over the last ten years from $500 million to $1.4 billion “unsustainable.” 

However, the changes seem to be having a positive effect.  Since fiscal 2004-5, admissions to CAS are down 18%, the number of children in care is off 5%, and adoptions are up a staggering 29%.  These changes, resulting in keeping more families together and getting more children into permanent homes, has required more staff and more time spent with a family.

We asked Gomez-Wiuckstern about Deb Matthews’ interview on CBC. 

On that occasion, the interviewer pushed her for examples of what a CAS might be able to do to save money, but she was evasive, saying simply that it is up to the agencies to find the savings.  He reacted, saying, “We have asked over and over the same question to the government, but the answer has always been, ‘You need to figure it out.’  For us to figure it out would mean breaking the rules.”

  1. There is no way we will meet any of those benchmarks with the kinds of cuts we’d have to make in order to balance the budget.”  

In his case, with a 16% shortfall, he foresees the loss of some 90 staff, one-third of the complement. 

York, however, is not the worst off. 

The Payukotayno James & Hudson Bay Family Services will be short over 30%.  Other Aboriginal community CAS’s will also be hammered, at 9% and 10%.  The chronic social problems and severe poverty experienced by Aboriginal communities make such cuts unconscionable. 

As well, the severe recession experienced in the province as a whole is bound to mean increased demands for CAS services.

While Matthews was unable to be specific about what CAS’s should cut, she helpfully suggested that “there are things that CAS’s do that are actually not part of their legislative mandate.” 

Yet, she was unwilling or unable to tell the CBC what these frills are. 

Beyond direct child protection and related work, CAS’s are also mandated “to provide guidance, counselling and other services for families for protecting children or for the prevention of circumstances requiring the protection of children.” 

The changes made in recent years in what CAS’s must do are bringing results, as indicated in changes in admission rates, the number of children in care, and the increase in adoptions.

Deb Matthews also announced the appointment of a commission to look at “Why is it costing so much more to deliver services?” 

While it might be simple enough to refer her to the increased responsibilities the province has imposed on the CAS’s, the OACAS commented that “funding policy and funding decisions should be informed by the Commission’s work rather than preceding it.”  No kidding!

Reuel S. Amdur is a freelance writer based across the river from Ottawa.

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